When the Tempe City Council approved its 2020-21 fiscal-year budget on June 11, full funding for the Police Department remained despite efforts by several groups that banded together and marched on City Hall, hoping to divert some or all of the department’s money.
City Council approved the $777.6 million budget that includes nearly $97 million for police. Officers in riot gear greeted the several-hundred marchers outside City Hall after their half-mile trek in triple-digit heat from Tempe Beach Park, organized by Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, Semillas Arizona, Young Democratic Socialists of America and Tempe Against Police Violence.
The gathering was peaceful and there were no arrests.
Demonstrators, acknowledging that the budgeting process was too far along to make drastic changes, sought to divert $22.5 million in CARES Act pandemic relief funds from police to education, affordable housing, homelessness, public transportation and community services.
The attempt to defund the Police Department is consistent with a nationwide movement in the wake of the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that set off both peaceful nationwide protests but also rioting in many cities.
Tempe has been spared the violence.
Council members acknowledged an outpouring of requests to redirect money from the police.
Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir said officers are trained to uphold a high standard, including the sanctity of human life.
“The tragedy and the pain and the anguish of those moved by Mr. Floyd’s death is very real, and that calls on all of us to examine equity in action and equity in government service and how we engage there,” Moir said in an interview with The Wrangler News. “I’m not in the position of those who are marginalized but I certainly can understand their anguish and pain.
“I’m very concerned socially about what is occurring. And we’ve seen signs of
it even in Tempe, about giving people time and space to vent in places where it’s inappropriate, but I don’t think we can just allow people to vent grievances and frustrations in ways that lack dignity and respect.”
Racism lives, Moir acknowledges. Police brutality lives. Opportunism that turns peaceful grieving into violent confrontations also exists, she says. Moir said she understands that people are angry and they’re venting years of perceived systemic wrongs, foremost being racism and police brutality.
Moir also acknowledges that some of the marchers’ complaints are valid. Officers in her department have been taken to task over several incidents in which suspects have died or were injured by perceived heavy-handed police tactics.
“Every isolated incident gives us opportunities to examine where the system or the individual failed,” Moir said. “Our policy guides us to render aid after force is used as immediately as possible. That is part of our training in Tempe and essential to who we are.
“We have experienced tragedies. We own them. We will not forget them, and we will not forget what damage might have been done to the trust we have built in the community.”